The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

For months, I heard about the hype surrounding Stieg Larsson's novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Thrillers/mysteries are a genre that I am trying to get into this year. I always enjoy them, but I also find most of them forgettable and within a few months of reading them I can rarely remember what the plot of the book was. I can safely say that this book will not be one of them. The plot was incredible and left me guessing through much of the book. There was such a detailed back story that I became attached to some of the characters as well.

The book is about a disgraced financial journalist named Mikael Blomkvist who has been convicted of libel for a story he published about a Swedish businessman. Through the press coverage of the trial, industrialist Henrik Vanger finds Blomkvist and hires him to write his family's story and hopefully solve the mysterious disappearance of his niece, Harriet Vanger. Blomkvist does exhaustive research into the Vanger family over the course of a year and even picks up a research assistant along the way. The twists and turns the story takes made for a really good read. I was never bored! However, this book was chosen for an online book club that I am participating in, and one of the readers found the book laborious and difficult to follow. It is true that there are a ridiculous number of Vangers in the book (since Blomkvist is researching the family history, he pretty much touches on every one for the last 100 years it seems like) and the back story takes quite awhile to get through. My copy was almost 600 pages and the exciting part starts around pages 200-250. I didn't find any of it boring. During the back story, Lisbeth Salander (who is the girl with the dragon tattoo) has her own story that I felt was equally interesting if not more at times.

I cannot wait to pick up a copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire and continue reading the series. I will most likely wait until it comes out in paperback just to keep my series consistent (my copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is paperback). My only regret in this series is the Stieg Larsson died in 2004 at the age of 50. According to Wikipedia, his plans were to write ten books in the Millenium series, but only three were finished and a fourth manuscript was left unfinished. Synopses were written for the fifth and sixth books of the series. I would have enjoyed reading all of the novels, and I'm excited that there are three that are or will be available soon.

The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan

Has anyone ever recommended a book to you that you are sure you won't like? You just kind of look at them and nod and say that you'll check it out even though you know you never will? Well, that is how I felt with The Omnivore's Dilemma. My cousin recommended it to me and I was really reluctant to read it because I didn't want anyone telling me that everything I was putting into my body was absolute poison and how could I possibly be eating things with high fructose corn syrup?!! I told him I'd put it on my reading list and secretly promised myself that I would never pick it up. Lo and behold a few months later my cousin told me that he had read a book that I recommended to him (it was Life of Pi if you are curious). I inwardly sighed and said to myself that I had to read The Omnivore's Dilemma because since he was open to what I read, I should be more open to what he is reading. I picked up a copy at the library and told myself that I wouldn't enjoy it. What a fool I was! It was excellent!

The book is about a man's quest to prepare a few meals through the different food chains available to humans today. One was the fast food chain/the industrial food chain, another the organic food chain, and the forager's food chain. The book says that it's the natural history of four meals, but Pollan did prepare more than that. I was ready for the criticism that my junk food diet would be under so much scrutiny in the book that I would end up hating him. Not only did I not feel criticized, I actually am a little more interested in food now. From the beginning of the book I could tell that Michael Pollan was a total foodie (which I am not) so I didn't really take the things he said personally. He went to great lengths in the book to prepare meals for his family and friends that they would enjoy using the different food chains. I have to admit that I have no idea what some of the food preparation methods were, nor did I know what some of the foods were so I didn't really end up feeling bad at all. He and I are just different people. Food is an experience to him while for me it is just to put something in my belly.

There are three main parts to the book. The first goes into the industrial food chain and has some interesting information about how much corn is a part of the American diet. I had heard this before, but reading about it actually amazed me. From the corn that is grown in the American industrial farm fields to the feed given to cattle and chicken which eventually ends up on our plates, we might as well be shucked! Pollan goes into the raising of chickens and cattle and tells what life is like in the industrial food chain. Was I grossed out and appalled? Not really. I pretty much knew most of the stuff going into it and have accepted it.

The second part of the book talks about the organic farm and how much like regular industrial farming it has become. Pollan goes on numerous adventures to experience all these farming methods first hand. He meets a man that pasture farms his animals and processes his chickens on his farm. This part of the book was fascinating--I would really like to try pasture fed chicken and beef now! Pollan talks a lot about the sustainability of current farming practices in America. While I think he makes some good points, I also wonder how sustainable pasture fed meat is with the large population we have. However, he does make a point to say that the pasture farming is a niche market.

The final part of the book is about Pollan's quest to forage a meal for himself. He meets up with some really avid foragers that are willing to teach him to hunt and forage for fungi. This was the part of the book that I least identified with. While I am not a hunter, I don't have a problem with eating meat and I realize where my meat comes from. I have family and friends that hunt and I know it's a very fulfilling and respectable thing to do. Pollan has a real moral dilemma with killing a pig when he is out hunting and writes a long commentary about vegetarianism and the hunter. I once had a Biology professor who was also a hunter that told me that you cannot truly respect the meat you are eating unless you kill it yourself. Pollan makes this same point in his book--you are much more aware and thankful for what you are eating when you have been the one that has foraged and taken life to provide life for your family and friends.

All in all, I think any person who loves food should read this book. The information in it is interesting, but it really becomes secondary to Pollan's adventures in seeking out his meals. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I finally finished. I didn't feel preached to or convicted about my current diet. Instead, I felt more informed and aware of what is available to me. The book was really well written and a lot of fun to read and I am really glad I took my cousin's advice! I will definitely be more open to reading things people recommend to me from now on!

Tanequil: High Druid of Shanarra (Book 2) - Terry Brooks

I picked up the second book of the High Druid of Shanarra trilogy two weeks ago at the library. After getting back from a trip to New Mexico to see my two adorable nieces, I decided to sit down and read it. Tanequil continues the adventure of Pen Ohmsford trying to obtain the darkwand and Grianne Ohmsford (the unseated Ard Rhys of Paranor) stuck in the Forbidding (aka, Jarka Ruus) with demons that have captured her.

The book is not very long and is action packed. The group seeking the darkwand from the Tanequil tree is pursued by none other than the Druids and an unknown assassin trying to get to Pen. In their efforts to escape the Druids, the group flees to a town of Trolls and asks for help. In the Forbidding, Grianne is tested by the leader of the demons and must decide whether to attempt to pass that test or give into her former self and use skills she had as the Ilse Witch.

I think Terry Brooks is quite a fun author to read. His Shanarra books are pretty engrossing and whisks the reader away from their everyday life. I do think that I spaced the first and second book out a little too much. I struggled a bit trying to remember what happened in the first book. Because of this, I decided to go get the third and final installment of the series right away. I am still reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (on the last section) and I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson today. After these two books, I'll read Straken to finish the series. This way, I won't forget so much of the second book!

After this series, I have one more set to read before I've finished the Shanarra series (for now at least). I read that Terry Brooks is planning to write another book on the Shanarra series after he finishes promoting his new Landover book. So, that being said, I will probably be continuing to read the Shanarra books for some time to come!

Bitten - Kelley Armstrong

This year I decided to make a concerted effort to read books people recommend to me. Bitten by Kelley Armstrong was suggested to me by a friend who loves the Women of the Otherworld series. The main character is Elena, whose ex-boyfriend bit her and turned her into a werewolf. I wasn't sure what to expect because I think of werewolves in terms of the movie Teen Wolf! No worries about any similarities though. Bitten had a serious plot and serious action! It's a fun read that you can just sit and enjoy.

The book begins with Elena living in Toronto trying to maintain a normal life devoid of the werewolf culture. She has a good job and a loving boyfriend. Life is calm and unexciting for her until she receives a call from her pack alpha leader, Jeremy. The call ends up sending her back to her werewolf home of Stonehaven where she learns that a murder has a occurred. The pack doesn't want to be associated with any involvement in it so they begin to investigate. What ensues is action and intrigue. The pack learns that other werewolves are in town and plan to cause trouble for the pack.

I really liked the flow of the book and the writing. Lately I've been reading books that are truly just books for fun (i.e., Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series). Armstrong writes with sufficient description and quality that has sometimes been lacking in my reading this year. Don't get me wrong though--I enjoy reading books that are meant to just be enjoyed as a quick read as well. This book just had a little more depth to the writing. It is definitely a series I will continue reading.

Club Dead - Charlaine Harris

Ahhhh....the continuing saga of Sookie Stackhouse. I feel like I have grown a lot in the type of books I am willing to read. I used to be a sort of "book snob" and would only read books I thought were of good enough quality to read. This year however has been all about fun, and I am realizing just how much I can enjoy a good, quick read. The Sookie Stackhouse books are by no means award winning literature, but they are quite a bit of fun.

The third book, Club Dead, picks up with Sookie back in Bon Temps after her nightmarish time in Dallas. Of course dating a vampire doesn't allow Sookie to live the nice, quiet life. From the first page of the book, Sookie's time of peace and quiet is something that never quite happens. Vampire Bill is spending all his time at the computer instead of snuggling up with his favorite living being. Whatever he is working on is sure to be dangerous, and he tells Sookie that should something happen to him she should take his computer and hide it. He tells her he is going to work on an assignment in Seattle and then disappears from Bon Temps. No sooner has he left than Vampires Eric, Chow, and Pam show up to tell her that not all is right in the world of Bill. Of course Sookie has to drop everything and attempt to save Bill. It leads her to Jackson, Mississippi where there are shapeshifters, werewolves, vampires, and a creepy vampire bar called Josephine's (a.k.a, Club Dead).

The action is pretty non-stop in this third novel. It also further explores Sookie's complicated, yet hysterical relationship with Vampire Eric. He is by far my favorite person in the books and I even laughed out loud a few times. He says some pretty funny things like, "I took 'English as a Second Language' at community college in the seventies" when Bill asks him where he learned the term "possessive pronoun". Those little gems of comedy coupled with his Scandinavian good looks makes him the most likeable character in the series. I may just really like him because Eric in True Blood is played so well. I definitely see Alexander Skarsgaard when I read the books.

At times I get a little irritated with the conversational diary-ish tone of the books, but overall they are quite fun to read and it's something I know I can get through in a day or two. I will probably pick up the next book in the series pretty soon because I am having such a good time reading them. Sometimes reading should just be fun, don't you think?!!

The Drawing of the Three - Stephen King

I wasn't overly excited about reading the rest of The Dark Tower series after finishing The Gunslinger. I was still interested, but just not excited like I thought I would be. The second book, The Drawing of the Three, was amazing. It was action packed through most of it and had much more compelling characters than the first novel.

There are three characters besides Roland (The Gunslinger): Eddie, the heroin addict; Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker, the woman with dissociative identity disorder; and Mort, The Pusher. Each has their own unique story that held my interest. Two of them were also linked by events that occurred during their lifetime. All these people help Roland during his quest to The Dark Tower with which he is obsessed. Eddie even points out that Roland's heroin is the Tower and he is nothing short of an addict himself. While the book doesn't answer many questions about the tower, Roland's quest becomes much more involved and I couldn't stop turning the pages to find out what was going to happen.

I will admit there is one other set of characters that I loved: The lobstrosities! They were a constant deadly threat, but oh so yummy and I really enjoyed every moment that they were in the book. Who wouldn't love a giant lobster that was strong enough to snap off your arms and legs with its claws but provided the crew with a tasty dinner they could barbeque over the fire?! It was an animal I would definitely pay to see in a zoo and would most likely end up on one of Animal Planet's shows, The Most Extreme. I like that Stephen King found a way to put lobsters in the book since he is from Maine. It is such a huge part of the culture in that part of the country that I thought it was a nice touch to the book.

I have a tendency to get caught up in the story when I'm reading a book and miss a lot of the symbolism and other important parts of it. The Dark Tower series is full of symbolism. What is The Tower that Roland seeks? Why is his journey littered with people that he must ultimately sacrifice to reach his goal? I have more questions and hope they will be answered as the series goes on. For now, I am going to pick up another book before I return to the series in a week or two.

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